Morning Fizz

Murray's Executive Order Challenges Traditional Neighborhood Council Model

A year after failing to challenge Seattle's single-family zone status quo, Murray tries a different approach.

By Josh Feit July 14, 2016

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 1. So, there you have it. Community voices are dead. Long live community voices. 

Saying “the world has changed, and it’s time for us to change how we engage,” Mayor Ed Murray dissolved the city’s ties to the 13 District Councils, which are made up (city data shows) predominantly of white, older homeowners. Murray simultaneously dissolved ties to the City Neighborhood Council, the elected group of district council members that has advised the city on neighborhood projects and spending. (The city’s formal tie to the district council system, beyond following the CNC’s lead on neighborhood spending, has been to assign department of neighborhood staff to act as liaisons to the councils—worth about $1.2 million in staff budgeting and time.)

Murray signed an executive order yesterday that formally ends the district council era, dating back to 1987, and directs the city to come up with a way to get more diverse input into community spending. Saying he wanted to hear from people such as immigrants, people of color, youth, renters (who make up 52 percent of the city), single parents, and people “who couldn’t make it to 7pm community center meetings”…he specifically mentioned his hair dresser…, Murray is asking Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland to revamp how the city does official outreach.

At an afternoon press conference, Murray said: “Our city has changed dramatically since our district councils system was created three decades ago, and we have seen them over time become less and less representative not only of their neighborhoods but of Seattle itself. For immigrants and refugees, low-income residents, communities of color, renters, single parents, youth, people experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ, and more, the system today has become a barrier for many to become involved in the City’s decision-making process. Now is the time to recreate our outreach and engagement process to become more accessible and inclusive."

Nyland will use the city’s race and social justice tool kit—a guide to ensure city policy doesn’t favor privileged people while simultaneously jarring communities of color and low-income people—to work with all the city departments to come up with a new outreach system. Murray noted that the controversial redesign on 23rd Avenue—a Seattle Department of Transportation project that has upended local small businesses—may have been less disruptive had the planning initially gone through a different outreach formula.

The mayor said, for example, that geography isn’t the only way to define local communities, pointing out that immigrant communities and renters are important constituencies that transcend traditionally defined neighborhood needs.

“How we reach out should reflect our commitment to being inclusive,” Murray said.

Screen shot 2016 07 14 at 8.38.05 am sqnnos

Ironically, the large group of community activists that stood with the mayor at yesterday’s press conference was predominantly white. To be fair, though, the two people Murray chose to speak were women from the other marginalized communities in the traditional district council process— a renter and an Ingraham High School Student who had been part of the city’s “Youth Voice, Youth Choice” pilot program that let students earmark $700,000 in city spending on their priorities.

It’s impossible to miss the connection between yesterday’s dramatic executive order and the downright radical policy recommendation Murray made exactly one year ago as part of his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) to allow multifamily housing in single family neighborhoods. As I noted when Nyland first presented her indictment of district councils to the city council’s neighborhood committee last month, the same premise between last year’s HALA recommendation and undoing the district councils applies: Murray is trying to rebalance a body politic that favors white homeowners.

Last year, of course, facing a gross backlash from the Seattle Times, council members Tim Burgess and even urbanist Mike O’Brien, and well, the district councils, Murray withdrew that specific HALA recommendation; though as he noted yesterday, he kept the key pieces of HALA intact, such has mandatory inclusionary zoning, a commercial linkage fee, and allowing multifamily development on the edges of single family zones along bus corridors and neighborhood commercial hubs.

He also namechecked former 1980s city council member Jim Street, the father of the district council movement, noting that when Street headed up a discussion about community involvement at Murray’s neighborhood summit early in Murray’s term two years ago, Street himself told Murray he was “surprised the district council system hadn’t been updated in 28 years.” But perhaps Murray's biggest insurance against a backlash: Nyland herself has serious street cred. She headed up the Georgetown district council for six years herself before coming to city hall.

Asked explicitly at yesterday’s press conference if he would back off of this year’s affront to the traditional neighborhood movement in the face of any backlash (good question Erica C. Barnett), Murray said: “We are not going to back away from this—because the people in the city want this.” And acknowledging the ornery vibe on Facebook and Twitter over policies that attempt to rebalance city policies that currently favor the privileged, Murray said: “Social media is angry, but when I’m out in the community every night, I hear something very different." And he concluded, "people want more affordable housing," making the connection between his attack on traditional neighborhood councils and HALA even more explicit.

We’ll have to wait and see if a backlash materializes, but Paul Delauney, self-described as one of those “‘old white homeowners’ like myself who happen to lead one of those councils,” (Delauney heads up of the Portage Bay Roanoke Park Community Council), sent an email to his District Three city council member Kshama Sawant yesterday. (By the way, the electoral districted council member system is not related to the now-scrapped District Council system.)

Delauney’s letter asked Sawant to “turn back” the mayor’s executive order. Delauney, who tells me his council “includes folks of color, folks that rent and those that vote as independent voices” and also that he never heard from Nyland during her fact finding about District councils “yet she seems to know all about us,” email to Sawant said:

In view of the Mayor’s desire to shut down independent neighborhood voices, and replace them with what appears to be hand-picked ‘stakeholders’, we offer the following 2015 Portage Bay Roanoke Park Community Council Annual Report to demonstrate our broad community engagement with enthusiasm, passion and a commitment to preserving our somewhat unique urban environment.  We hope you will support our community council and turn back the Mayor’s desire to shutter voices that may differ from his agenda from time-to-time.

2. Yesterday, I noted, according to data from Seattle Public Utilities, the dramatic drop in plastic bags used citywide since the 2011 city council ordinance prohibiting the sale of plastic bags at local stores. 

Here's today's stat from city hall: At a presentation during Sally Bagshaw's human services committee meeting yesterday afternoon, public defender Lisa Daugaard and Mayor Murray’s homelessness policy point person Scott Lindsey presented findings from a U.W. study on the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program (a program that directs low-level crime offenders to services rather than jail) showing that,  "compared to the control group, the LEAD group had 58 percent lower odds of at least one arrest subsequent to evaluation entry. The LEAD effect on arrests over time was statistically significant."

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